WASHINGTON ― It should be obvious by now that Mexico is not going to pay for “the wall” ― if a wall is actually built at all.
Significant parts of the government are shut down right now over a dispute about how much money Congress ― and therefore taxpayers, not Mexico ― will dole out for new barrier construction along the U.S.-Mexico border.
But don’t tell that to Republicans. For the most part this week, Republicans refused to contradict President Donald Trump’s contortionist explanations for why, technically, sort of, in a roundabout way, Mexico is footing the bill.
“I certainly understand the president’s logic, and I’ve always got it,” Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) told HuffPost Friday, “that if we have more jobs in America, because of an improved [North American Free Trade] Agreement, that it’ll be more economic tax base for the United States.”
The new trade agreement negotiated last year has not yet been approved by Congress and does not mention the wall. If that explanation wasn’t confusing or tenuous enough, Marshall also said the wall was “an investment.”
“This is the best $5.7 billion of American taxpayer money that we can use,” he said. “It’ll come back in multiples for decades to come if it keeps out drugs, if it keeps out terrorists, if it keeps out criminals.”
Over the course of more than two dozen conversations this week, Republicans tried their best to evade questions about who’s paying for the wall, though some members acknowledged it was not Mexico. But plenty of GOP lawmakers were happy to accept Trump’s arguments that Mexico would eventually pay, that new trade deals would offset the cost, or that, hey, doesn’t a wall pay for itself anyway?
“We are paying as taxpayers for not having border security,” Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said. “I can tell you that. We are already.”
Roe added that “the wall will pay for itself, absolutely,” but he acknowledged that Mexico wasn’t actually footing the bill. “The taxpayers are gonna pay for it, but we’re paying for it already,” Roe said. “Whether we don’t protect our border or we do ― we’re paying the bill.”
That was essentially the argument that Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) offered as well. He said if America built the wall, “by virtue of the reduced illegal immigration that it will cause, it’ll be a great savings.”
Republicans also said that the tax cuts they passed at the end of 2017 would pay for themselves. The theory ― which most experts considered ridiculous ― was that lower taxes would boost economic growth, lead to higher corporate profits, and then more tax revenues from those profits. The theory proved wrong: despite solid growth in 2018, corporate tax revenue for the year fell 15 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Of the Republicans who took the president’s side that Mexico would pay for the wall, the explanation was overwhelmingly that, because of the new trade agreement, Mexico was technically paying for it.
“The president’s point is that, indirectly, we will be receiving more revenue from them as a result of the new fair trade law, and I think he’s got a good point there,” Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) said.
“In an indirect sense, he’s right. In a direct sense, no, they’re not writing us a check,” he conceded.
Trump used to say Mexico would make a direct payment of $5 to $10 billion, an idea so absurd that Trump himself begged the president of…